A year ago, the 6th Circuit concluded that pregnancy-related impairments
that are not part of a "normal" pregnancy-such as miscarriage
susceptibility-can qualify for protection under the ADA. Spees v. James Marine, Inc.,
617 F.3d 380 [an enhanced version of this opinion is available to lexis.com
subscribers / unenhanced version available from lexisONE Free Case Law].
Late last month, the 7th Circuit-in Serednyj v. Beverly Healthcare [enhanced version]-took up the same issue with a
different result. Employers looking for help in dealing with pregnant employees
should not celebrate too quickly. Because Serednyj's termination occurred
before the ADAAA took effect, its impact will be short-lived.
involved a non-FMLA-eligible employee terminated after her doctor placed her on
light duty for pregnancy-related complications. The court agreed that
Serednyj's complications constituted a "physical impairment" under the ADA. It
upheld the dismissal of her ADA claim, though, because the short-term nature of
her pregnancy meant that it did not "substantially limited a major life
Serednyj claims that her physical impairment
substantially limited her major life activities of reproduction and lifting....
Pregnancy is, by its very nature, of limited duration, and any complications
which arise from a pregnancy generally dissipate once a woman gives birth.
Accordingly, an ADA plaintiff asserting a substantial limitation of a major life
activity arising from a pregnancy-related physiological disorder faces a tough
hurdle.... Serednyj's pregnancy-related complications did not last throughout her
pregnancy or extend beyond the time she gave birth.
This case is an illusory victory for employers. Under the
ADAAA, which took effect January 1, 2009, the effects of a
short-term impairment (one lasting fewer than six months) can be substantially
limiting. Employers no longer can expect to be helped by the limited duration
of any medical condition (including pregnancy). As the ADAAA's regulations make
clear: "the threshold issue of whether an impairment substantially limits
a major life activity should not demand extensive analysis."
Under a current ADA analysis, I have no doubt that
Beverly Healthcare should have accommodated Serednyj's pregnancy complications
by granting her light duty. Despite the employer's victory in this case, businesses
should heed it as a warning that the rules for handling all employee medical
conditions-including pregnancy-have radically changed.
[Hat tip: The Employer Handbook]
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